Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Brew Time for Mediaeval Peasants

Sometimes on rainy evenings, after the consumption of a number of pints of Speckled Hen, I find myself sat behind a warm monitor staring at a blank Word document completely void of inspiration (this usually happens after watching early evening television, which has a tendancy to turn the brain into grey vomit) wondering what the hell I’m going to blog about this time around.
Beer’s always a good choice. The research is generally enjoyable.

Mediaeval peasants are always excellent as well, because that means I can nick some old woodcuts from elsewhere on the net without fear of copyright infringement.

Borrowing bits and pieces from books that I’ve previously written but that, hopefully, everybody’s forgotten about is an old favourite of mine too.

So tonight, I thought, as I downed my fourth pint and returned from the fridge with yet another uncorked beverage, why not combine all of these simple suggestions and borrow something that I wrote for the ‘The History of the Wyre from Harold the Elk to Cardinal Allen’ ages ago? I haven’t improved in my writing abilities over the years and everybody’s bound to have forgotten about the previous stuff by now anyway, so they won’t suspect what I’ve done.

(By the way, don’t let this article put you off buying a copy of that particular book if you haven’t already got one. Just follow the link in the right hand column. It’ll be the best £9.95 you’ll ever spend, trust me.)

With that in mind…

Mediaeval towns and villages around the Fylde and Wyre (not to mention just about everywhere else in Britain) weren’t exactly the most hygienic places in which to live. (Some of our local towns and villages still aren’t, but that’s another issue.)

Indoor plumbing was virtually nonexistent, so slop buckets were simply emptied from overhanging windows into the streets below. This was why it was considered courteous to allow women to walk on the inside of the pavement, thus avoiding any back-splash. It might also explain why everybody tended to wear hats back in those days.
Even rural communities were unsanitary places with cesspits being dug alongside drinking wells. It’s a thirsty business doing all that paperwork. See…even the jokes are recycled.

All things considered, it’s hardly surprising that people generally drank beer instead.

Never ones to shirk responsibility, we visited to pick up a few helpful tips on how to make our own mediaeval ale.

The first step, it appears, is to simmer some malt in a copper cauldron full of soft water (don’t ask…presumably hard water is ice) for approximately two hours, before transferring the liquid into a wooden barrel.

Here the ‘gruit’ or flavouring is added; Bog Myrtle, Yarrow, Apple, Honey and Cinnamon being amongst the most popular it seems. (Sheep, duck or prawn cocktail might not be as tasty as they first seem.)

This particular concoction is known as ‘mash’ (not to be confused with the potato variety, obviously) and needs to ferment for up to three days, the strength of the ale depending on the length of the fermentation period.

When it’s ready the mash is strained through a sieve, the separated yeast being placed on one side to be used later in some economic bread making.

The remaining liquid is left to ferment for a further hour (it’s a lot of hassle for a quiet pint this, isn’t it?) allowing the sediment to settle, before being strained once more through a fine weave cloth. One more hour and one more sieving and the ale is finally ready to drink. (If you’re not too knackered to be bothered that is.)

Consumption, however, needs to take place within the next twenty-four hours as this sort of ale is quick to turn. Back in mediaeval times stale beer was only fit for the local pigs. On the upside, rancid ale improved the flavour of the pork (please keep your innuendoes to yourselves) and gave rise to the saying: “As drunk as swine.” (See…there is an educational element to this article after all.)

Speaking of drunken swine, one punishment for inebriated peasants who made a nuisance of themselves with the local fillies was to be incarcerated in the fashion illustrated below, much to the amusement of everyone else. All in all it must have been a right barrel of laughs. (Ancient mediaeval jokes copyright 1382: as first transcribed in the Bumper Book of Amusing Kells.)

There we go. That’s just about filled the empty space so, bottoms up!


John said...

Excellent post, and great timing!

My new home just happens to have a nice large vine full of hops, so I'm thinking of having a go at creating HappyGlyphs Beer. Why not... I'm sure beer sales will beat book sales in no time. :0)

I'll try a more modern recipe, however.

As for that party, just what kind of Tarts were they serving?

Come back soon, Brian, or I'll be forced to hijack this board with more American archeology like the post before... :0)

JOHN :0)

JahTeh said...

Listen Fleetwood, never mind the ancient art of swill brewing, just find a virgin anything to sacrifice to the IP and get back online.

It's no fun insulting you behind your back. Anyway John's posting much better stuff than your usual manky drawings so you could be in a tumbril on the way to retrenchment if you don't get a move on.

And if I find out this is all a scam and you're in Oz visiting a certain lordship who has also been missing, then you're really in trouble.

John said...

Careful with the flattery, or I just might post again. :0)

Still, your comment just might get Brian back to us, so please flatter away. :0)

Don't tell me Sedgwick is missing as well? I thought the internet got a bit classier, lately. :0)

JOHN ;0)

Brian Hughes said...

"Listen Fleetwood, never mind the ancient art of swill brewing, just find a virgin anything to sacrifice..."

A virgin? In Fleetwood? I've got more chance of finding culture in Australia.